I try not to write Agriculture advocacy pieces because I would so much rather write about things that help farming families instead of writing to educate consumers, but often we forget that being an Agriculture Advocate has become a part of our job as farmers.
A survey was recently released that stated 7% of Americans think their chocolate milk comes from brown cows. I remember my Uncle who is a dairy farmer told me this as a joke growing up. I always knew better, but for many Americans, this joke has become a fact.
Over the years in America, we have had less and less people farming and more and more people moving into larger cities. This shed light on one thing, a common joke in the farming world can quickly become what the general public think is a fact. Even here in the Midwest in a town of 1000 people and a neighboring town of 20,000, people still take this joke as a fact. So where did it go so wrong and how can we fix it?
We don’t talk about farming and food to the average consumer. Sitting around a dinner table on a farm, mostly farming is discussed, but what of that conversation could someone with no connection to agriculture take away? Could they even understand the conversation? Over the last 100+ years, people started becoming more disconnected with where and how their food is produced. Now you can order from Amazon and in most cities have your food delivered in 2 hours or less. People don’t even need to leave their apartment to get those vital nutrients. So how can we as an average farmer help educate a population that only grow up hearing about the bad things on the news or children’s books?
Here are my tips to remember to be an Agriculture Advocate everywhere you go.
1. Always tell consumers why and how.
Most people want to know how something is produced and why you produce it that way. Crazy huh? Someone is not going to accept our answer that it provides better yield or it’s better for the environment instead they what the why. Why do you believe its better for the environment and why do you choose to produce organic vs. conventional.
2. Remember your manners.
I have seen people try to be an Agriculture advocate while nearly yelling at a consumer and telling them they are stupid. That gets us nowhere as an industry. Practice your listening. Say please and thank you. Even if they don’t agree with you keep it civilized and thank them for their time. You want them leaving the conversation with the feeling that they can ask you more questions anytime they want because you are not going to attack them or their beliefs just because you don’t agree with them.
3. Be aware of your surroundings when in larger towns and cities.
People are watching you. I love to travel and experience new things. I have taken many FFA kids on trips and always have one giant pet peeve. Acting like you never been off the farm. In other words, often I can pick out a person at a restaurant or in a city who are not normally there just by how they act. People usually talk too loud in restaurants, aren’t paying attention where they are going or to anybody around them. Yes enjoy your time while you are there, but beware that you stick out, and people are judging you and judging the rest of the agriculture world by your exposure.
Yes, we have some bad apples, and I, by all means, am not advocating you not to be yourself. I once heard a lively conversation about the best way to castrate an animal in the middle of a 5-star restaurant in Chicago. While this is a normal conversation for most people within the Agriculture world, it’s not taken lightly in a city. Does it portray the message we want to send to those consumers surrounding us?
4. Do not verbally attack them!
Do not tell them they are wrong or stupid! I don’t know a single person who will listen when someone starts attacking something they believe to be true. Instead, give them information so a consumer can make an informed decision is key. You cannot form their opinions for them. They have their mind and their sets of priorities. You will encounter people who will not listen to a single thing you say, that is ok. Instead, focus your effort on those consumers who are curious and want to know. Those are the consumers we can help and encourage.
5. Be a Friend.
Seriously Friend that person on Facebook, give them your card, or email. Let them be able to get in touch with you some way. Wouldn’t you rather have them be able to ask you a question directly instead of search google for it? I mean to be smart about it don’t add someone to your social media who is just going to bash what you do every time you post something, but be a source of a meaningful conversation about what you do and how you are growing the food they make. After all most people are in no way connected to a farm, why can you be that connection?
You may not like it but if you farm or a part of the Agriculture industry you need to be an Agriculture Advocate. You need to be able to find a way to tell people about what you do. Maybe that is just in a grocery aisle when someone is trying to figure out the difference in Milk, or labels on meat. Maybe it’s the person sitting next to you on a plan which has to make sure everything is organic, but when you ask why organic is their preference they have no idea why.
I will leave you with this challenge. Find a way to be an advocate every day this next week, whether it is through social media or in person. We all know you love what you do otherwise we wouldn’t farm. Being an Agriculture Advocate is a simple as telling everyone why!